What if I told you that the best diet out there doesn’t involve food restrictions and all you have to do is think? It’s called mindful eating and it’s the practice of eating with awareness and intention. Researchers propose that by simply tuning into your food and the process of eating, we can change dietary behaviors and eat healthier.
A Buddhist meditation tradition, mindful eating teaches us to understand, respect, and value food. Running through our everyday lives means that we sometimes make poor decisions when it comes to eating—fast food instead of cooking dinner; emotional choices instead of nutritional choices.
These decisions can add up quickly, but mindful eating will fight negative behaviors while still ensuring satisfaction from eating.
Nope, It's Not Just a Trend
More than just another fad diet, mindful eating has actually been coined the “anti-diet.” It’s a lasting practice that helps people make better decisions about eating, without eliminating any foods.
In yoga, we practice the philosophy of “moderation in everything,” and this extends to eating. Anything is an option, but we have the power of making the ultimate choice, not some crazy list of do’s and don’ts. With mindful eating, we learn the importance of food choices and how our actions affect our outcomes.
A growing body of research shows that mindful eating leads to changes in weight, distress, and self-acceptance. By eating mindfully—that is, attentively and intentionally—people gain more appreciation for food and it’s easier to change problematic eating patterns.
So How Can You Start Practicing Mindful Eating?
The best way to start eating mindfully is by implementing changes and thought processes gradually. Try one mindful meal a week, then ease into 1 per day, and so on. But how do you learn to eat mindfully?
According to many eating experts, it can start with a series of questions about your eating habits and food sources. Where is this food from? Why am I eating? What will this food do for me? How will I eat?
Below, we delve into the answers to these questions that facilitate mindful eating.
Where Did Your Food Come From?
Knowing where your food comes from extends beyond going to the farmer's market to buy local tomatoes (although that is a wonderful practice). The where includes a deeper understanding of the evolution of the tomato (in this case)—from seed, to photosynthesis, to plant, to farmer's hand, to transportation, and finally to you, the consumer.
Research suggests that by acknowledging the food process from germination to consumption, we learn to appreciate our food. This leads to more conscientious decisions when shopping for food—whether it be supporting seafood sustainability or choosing local produce.
Why Are You Eating?
Asking yourself why you’re eating a particular food is important for emotional and physical health. Are you eating because you’re actually hungry? Oftentimes emotions and a shift in hormones compel us to think that we want a tub of ice cream offset by a salty bag of chips.
Later on, our body will sometimes disagree with this irrational choice which can also inflict feelings of guilt. Knowing that emotional eating doesn’t help the underlying issue, and can even make things worse, is a key step in mindful eating. Research suggests that mindful eating teaches how to control emotions, specifically impulsivity, resulting in more nutritive food choices.
What Are You Eating?
Pretty basic, the what refers to the kind of food you’re going to buy or consume. Mindful eating includes knowing which food choices will nourish your body, so educate yourself!
In addition, the what can also refer to what experiences are arising during eating. Is the food spicy, sweet, soft, or cold? Try utilizing the senses to assess the texture, taste, temperature, color, and smell to become more mindful of what you’re ingesting.
How Do You Eat?
Do you eat hurriedly, on-the-go, while watching TV/Netflix, or while working through your lunch “break”? How you eat can actually play a significant role in your metabolism. Since it takes around 20 minutes for the brain to register satiety (fullness), slower and more mindful eating will help the body respond correctly to food intake and avoid overeating.
In addition, researchers also insist that distracted eating (such as eating in front of the TV or while typing emails) slows digestion. This interruption of digestion may halt absorption of nutrients, leaving our bodies devoid of the healthy benefits of our consumed food. Trying to eat slowly and without distraction will force you to focus on the food and the body will alert you when to stop.
Mindful eating helps with obesity, diabetes, cancer-related eating issues, and eating disorders. But evidence suggests that by learning self-control and awareness, mindful eating is a practice that everyone can benefit from.
We already know that food decisions have significant effects on health and well-being. So next time you’re at the supermarket or making a meal, make it a point to ask yourself these four questions: where, why, what, how?